The truth, isn’t that just what’s real? So why is it so elusive sometimes?
I know it sounds ridiculous, but I once had a budding online relationship end abruptly over my comment in an email that I had some jeans shortened because I couldn’t buy them with a 29” inseam. It was the truth, but on that flimsy evidence I was accused of lying about my height, and everything went downhill rapidly from there.
Long ago I lost a job as a young man in NYC because my office assistant reported to management that I had a drinking problem, at a time in my life when I didn’t drink at all.
A serious intimate relationship was effectively ground to dust by attrition because my partner would frequently accuse me of infidelity and fly into jealous rages, when there was absolutely no basis for her charges.
My rapid rise toward a management position in a large corporation was torpedoed when someone heard only part of something I had said in a public meeting, took that fragment out of context to mean the opposite of what I was actually saying, and reported it to a Vice-President at HQ, creating a firestorm of ridiculous proportions that cooked my reputation and my career with that particular company.
Although I have my suspicions, I don’t honestly have a clear picture as to what my relationship to the truth was as a kid. My mother is no longer alive to offer her perspective, but I do know that by the age of thirteen I definitely had secrets, and I was devious about certain things. For example, when I was out running around in the corn fields chasing crows and voles I would take potshots at them with a pellet gun she didn’t know I had and which she would never have approved of. And I started smoking a corncob pipe that I had swiped from the prop table at the end of a Children’s Theater play I performed in about Davy Crockett.
First I smoked loose tea from Lipton teabags, filched from our kitchen cabinet, but after a while I bought a pack of cigarettes, to break apart and smoke in my little pipe. Later, at the cigar store downtown where they sold illegal Playboy Magazines under the counter, I bought a swirly pink plastic case to keep them in. The case was in two parts, and they telescoped over a pack to keep the cigs from being crushed in a pocket, or in my case, in my newspaper bag. It seemed a very cool and grown up thing to me, with a nice recess just the right size to hold a pack of paper matches.
Looking for a good place to hide my new cigarette case, I slid it out of sight under the piano in the dining room, because that hulk had never been moved since the dawn of time. A couple of days later, as I was watching something like “The Cisco Kid,” on the 13” B&W TV in the living room, Mom came into the room carrying the cigarette case and said, “Gee, I wonder whose these are? They’re not mine. I guess they must be yours!” as she tossed the now intensely glowing object in my lap and turned and left the room. Wow, I was well and thoroughly busted! My face was on fire from the shame. And I promptly did the appropriate thing, by finding a much better hiding place for my smokes in the basement.
Although I continued my juvenile crime wave with multiple new family misdemeanors, I was henceforth a lot more careful, so it was at least 3 years before I was involved in another big bust, this time a major felony. I was sure my Dad’s veins were going to burst through the skin of his neck and face as he shook the morning newspaper in my face, spurting out a nearly incomprehensible torrent of furious words about the speeding ticket I had gotten the old fashioned way on Saturday night, as featured in the Weekend Police Blotter.
It was the angriest I had ever seen him, because everybody in town knew who Dad was and this was so… so… embarrassing! I was promptly relieved of my license and my driving privileges for a month, and that began the long process of my plotting and planning to move far enough away from home that my father could never again read of my misdeeds in the morning newspaper. And in fact, once I had finally achieved escape velocity from my hometown about 3 years later, I never again returned to my father’s orbit for the rest of his life for anything more than brief, circumspect visits. Wow, could he get angry!
Over the first 20 years of my adulthood I followed my own unique trajectory in life, which might be described as quite average and ordinary in regards to my relationship to the truth. That is to say, I was never arrested, not even close, but I told the usual range of fibs and white lies and made up excuses all the time, just like everyone around me. It never occurred to me at that stage of life that I was lying to avoid other people’s anger.
“Late again?” “Yeah, that darned train keeps running behind!”
“Where did that come from?” “Oh, I’ve always had it. You just didn’t notice it before.”
“Didn’t make the sale?” “Ahh, that jerk was just a tire kicker.”
“Why can’t we buy it?” “I’m sorry. I’d like to but we can’t afford it.”
“Aren’t you coming to bed?” “Sure, I’ll be there in a minute.”
Then, as I crossed into the age range in which it begins to become reasonable to have a mid-life crisis, I began to have a mid-life crisis. Encountering the fact that there was now quite likely more of my life behind me than before me, I began an emotional and spiritual journey for personal meaning which still continues today, decades later. I also sought out teachers who might contribute perspective and insight. I participated in life-altering works of personal transformation, and after a shattering near-death experience, began listening to the universe more and talking less.
One of the areas of potential growth that grabbed my interest from the beginning of my journey was that of personal integrity, in the sense of wholeness and alignment, rather than in the commonly misunderstood sense implying some particular morality or another. To put it simply, I came to understand having integrity as saying what you mean and meaning what you say. Or to say it another way, having integrity is honoring your word as being powerful, and having all your actions line up in congruity with what you have said.
Brad Blanton’s “Radical Honesty” impacted me heavily on this topic, with its philosophy that telling the truth in all things frees up the mind and soul to be more creative and powerful. To use a pilot’s terminology, lying creates tremendous drag and instability on your flight through life, because of all the dead weight and unnecessary bulk added to your transit by the need to keep track of your lies and what you said to whom. Mark Twain’s quote “If you tell the truth, you don’t have to remember anything,” resonated powerfully as I took this quality on for myself, not because it was the right thing to do, but because I could see that it was a powerful way to live life.
And so I stopped making excuses, and quit saying things I didn’t mean just to “make nice.” I took on acknowledging when I had failed to keep a promise, and offering to do whatever it would take to make things right. I gave up trying to conceal my failures or attempting to hide the things I thought someone else might dislike me for.
As an outcome, for the decades since I’ve become reliable as someone who tells the truth and who readily ‘fesses up if I’ve messed up in some way. For example, those everyday evasions and excuses “we all make” melted away:
“Late for work?” “I apologize. I need to get up earlier.”
“Where did that come from?” “I bought it yesterday. I’m sorry, I should have mentioned it.”
“Didn’t make the sale?” “No.”
“Why can’t we buy it?” “I don’t want to, and I hope we won’t argue about it.”
“Aren’t you coming to bed?” “No, I’m annoyed. I just want to be alone for a while.”
At first blush the differences may appear trivial to others. Perhaps I only seem a little blunter now, but the effect on my ground of being and self image when I stopped hiding behind habitual evasion and deception was quite profound. In certain situations things got harder, especially at first, when I had to confront occasional anger and upset directly rather than ducking it. But in general and over time, life got simpler and easier, and more powerful. Now, on this side of that personal divide, looking back to where I came from, I can’t imagine returning to my old “lyin’ and cheatin’ ways.”
An unexpected outcome of embracing integrity as a core value in my life is that I’m also more sensitive to the equivocations and prevarications of others. When you get into the habit of talking straight, it’s a lot easier to listen straight as well, and I began noticing how much inauthenticity is a part of many people’s normal everyday behavior. Learning to deal with this gap has grown my capacities for compassion and forbearance. After all, I’m the one who committed to personal integrity, not the world around me, so I can only hope to inspire others to follow my example, rather than demanding it.
False accusations, however, fall into a special category for me. I’ve learned not to take umbrage at someone disbelieving something I say. In many cases it seems that’s simply an indication of their own lack of experience or imagination, or of a deep seated suspicion that is not personal to me. But if someone’s disbelief rises to the level of accusing me of something I have not done, especially after I have clearly stated my innocence, I become Clarence Darrow for the defense in my own case. And while I have a certain amount of tolerance for someone making a mistake about my integrity once, I have a pretty firm “two strikes, you’re out,” policy against repeat offenders.
The most unexpected outcome of my personal commitment to integrity is that I can no longer tolerate gossip, because it so often consists of false accusations against others. “Entertainment news” is filled with such unsupported allegations against celebrities in various walks of life. Why is this kind of thing of such burning interest to so many people, when so much of it is eventually proven untrue, or just falls away over time? What has happened to our democratic principle that people are to be considered innocent until proven guilty? And even if it all was to turn out to be true, every bit of it, what possible impact does that have on my life, or yours? The answer should be obvious… none! So why listen to it at all?
In the end I’ve also had to develop a level of acceptance that not everyone will always believe me, ever, and that not everyone will even appreciate my personal stand for the truth.
That long-legged dancer I was getting to know online… she didn’t stick around long enough to find out why we both had 29” inseams if I was actually 4” taller than her, as I was, with my short legs and long torso. Oh well.
That office manager in New York… she might have helped me catch my undiagnosed sleep apnea years earlier if she had spoken directly to me about what she thought she was seeing, rather than projecting her own personal history onto the situation and reporting her false judgment to our boss. Too bad.
My ex had been long been tortured by a previous partner’s infidelity... for which I had to pay an unfair price. It was a criminal error on her part. But there’s nothing to be done about it now.
And those misunderstood remarks in a stressful corporate setting... all too quickly latched onto by competitive, fearful people? It’s all just mist in the wind now, and truth be told, it wasn’t a healthy environment for me to work in anyways.
Today I know who I am, and I know you can rely on my word, even if you don’t know that you can, and that has altered my experience of life. It has made all the difference to me to learn to honor my word as myself.
Except for one thing. I still need to have all my pant legs shortened. Long torso, short legs, it runs in my family.
Photo & text © 2013 by David Kinne
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